Mystery Shopper – Dublin

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O2

At the top of Grafton Street, almost on St Stephens Green, was this former flagship outlet, complete with automatic doors that opened whenever a pedestrian ventured within 20 feet of the entrance.

Although I spent a fair time browsing the main display, nobody bothered to come near me, so I ventured to the back counter where I was greeted by Magda.

Magda listened to my request for a good quality camera-phone, but her answer to my question about which network would be the best to send an MMS to was a bit confusing.

It wasnt that I couldnt hear what she was saying, but I could only understand about one word in 10. For those with long memories, it was reminiscent of a scene from Taxi with incomprehensible driver Latka.

I looked at her nearby colleague for a translation, but his expression confirmed he was no better off. On the question of cross-network MMS, she deferred to Russell, who fortunately took over my query, leaving Magda to serve someone else.

Russell explained that all of Irelands networks had the ability to exchange MMS texts, but not across the border with the north, even if it was to an O2 customer in Belfast.

Russell handed me a live Sony Ericsson K800 to play with, so I took a picture and asked if he could send it to my Meteor handset. He duly did and within a minute I had a copy of the picture I had taken a few moments earlier for review.

After the earlier false start, Id been given good information, a real phone to try and a practical demonstration of MMS. It was good stuff, but the physical appearance of the store let it down.

The old curved panorama back wall device is long overdue for refurbishment and, with every other store on the street managing to look stylish and modern, something must be done urgently to bring this retail space up to spec.

Mobile News rating 5th

Product range 4
Product knowledge 4
Airtime knowledge 4
Questioning ability 4
Sales ability 4
Shop appearance2
Total 22

Vodafone

This store was an antidote to the drab and soulless O2 shop nearby. A branding revamp had resulted in a reversal of the usual colour scheme  previously a red background with white letters.

Ignoring the wide stairs that promised to take me up to a floor of accessories, I checked out the range of 40 dummy phones on display. The sales cards were comprehensive and gave me the full feature set and target price.

Again, however, nobody bothered to approach me. This seemed strange as there were plenty of occasions when one or other of the two staff members present could have come up to offer their expertise.

Eventually I approached Lee, who gave me a bright smile, and put my questions to him.

Lee said the best phone for my purposes would be the Nokia N73 or the Sony Ericsson K800. Neither was available on prepay, but on a mid-range Vodafone contract of 12 months, the phone would cost around ¬200 (£134).

Lee advised that problems could arise sending high-resolution MMS pictures, although it wasnt clear from his explanation where the problem lay. If the receiving handset couldnt display the high quality picture, the recipient would be sent a web link to view it on the Vodafone web site. However, both his recommended phones would automatically resize the picture to prevent this happening.

I said it was a shame that higher MMS pricing would result in enforced image degradation. But messages could be sent to all Irish networks and also to Vodafone UK, which would be a good choice for cross-border MMS.

Once Lee warmed to his task, his enthusiasm for the technology shone, and he asked a good spread of questions to find out whether my current phone usage would justify switching from prepay to contract (it would).

As a sales environment, the uncluttered layout and great internal lighting made this store a good advertisement for the network.

Mobile News rating 4th

Product range 5
Product knowledge 4
Airtime knowledge 4
Questioning ability 4
Sales ability 3
Shop appearance4
Total 24

Carphone Warehouse

This store deserves a blue plaque as it holds the record for the longest-established mobile phone outlet in Grafton Street. Its also a period piece in that it hasnt evolved much from the days it used to have a leather sofa at the back and a coffee machine for customers.

Network-branded stores have done much to freshen their outlook recently, with the possible exception of the O2 shop mentioned above, and this looked dated.

Yet again, I remained invisible until I approached the counter, although someone might have at least acknowledged I was there and offer to help if required.

On approaching the main desk I was greeted by Derek, and his badge told me he was the assistant manager. He assured me all Irish networks offered seamless cross-network MMS, but added it all goes horribly wrong when you send them out of the country.

He explained that this was because MMS was expensive for the networks to implement  roaming MMS became such a low priority that it fell off the radar. His phone of choice for me was a Sony Ericsson K800i, connected to 3 at ¬219 on contract or ¬349 on prepay.

He explained 3 Irelands recently launched roaming deal with the UK in great detail. It would mean my call charges would be exactly the same whether I crossed the border to Northern Ireland or went to London. At the same time he explained the anomaly that meant I would be unable to send SMS to non-3 networks until I returned to Ireland.

As for the shop display, the racks could hold up to 60 dummy handsets, but almost 20 of the spaces either had plastic remnants, advertisements or a space where the previous offering had not been replaced. A shame, as it spoilt the look of the sales wall.

I was also a little deterred by the security guard in the doorway. Is phone retailing in Dublins top street prone to disruption?

Mobile News rating 3rd

Product range 5
Product knowledge 4
Airtime knowledge 5
Questioning ability 5
Sales ability 4
Shop appearance2
Total 25

Meteor

Opened last year, this Meteor store immediately made a good impression  everywhere I looked someone was being attended to, and behind the counter even more staff were available.

Best of all, it was the first shop where I was proactively approached  and it made a refreshing change.

David recommended the Sony Ericsson W810i for its picture capabilities and warned me that there would be problems trying to send picture messages to the UK.

He also took time to explain Meteors roaming agreement with T-Mobile in those areas. He pointed out that, while MMS wasnt an option, voice and texts would be charged at the same Irish rates and would be a nail in the coffin of other rip-off tariffs.

The cost of the W810i would be ¬249 (£167) on prepay, but a rather reasonable ¬29 on a 12-month contract. With over 50 dummy models on display, I couldnt find even one broken or missing model  other mobile retailers take note.

Similarly, the store layout was pleasing on the eye, and with enough staff to cope with a sudden influx of rugby supporters, this store was just what the doctor ordered.

Davids attention to detail, making full use of the in-store catalogue to highlight his suggestions, along with the offer of his name and contact telephone number, made this the closest yet to an enjoyable retail experience in the city. I even noticed him gently coaxing me into making a buying decision  the first time this had happened that day.

Mobile News rating 2nd

Product range 5
Product knowledge 4
Airtime knowledge 4
Questioning ability 5
Sales ability 5
Shop appearance4
Total 27

3

It has to be said, this stores external presence wasnt inviting. The gloomy black exterior did nothing to attract me, nor did the large picture of ageing football pundit Eamon Dunphy.

Once inside, however, it was a different ballgame. There were no racks of dummy phones, just a long, snake-like, curved shelf running the length of the store. This held pods securely containing live handsets and, besides each, a dummy on a cord to let you feel them in your hand.

This hybrid approach provided the best of both worlds  reasonable security for the working handset, and a chance to compare this with the dummy. Large-screen LCD displays above some of the shelves provided demos of the features, together with some of the content available for download using 3 Irelands 3G network.

Reminiscent of the late lamented Totally Mobile (ToMo) UK retail chain, this 3 outlet wasnt simply different. It offered a contrasting retail experience, allowing you to work through the phones that interested you at your own pace, or seek guidance from the sales staff.

Ian saw me trying out one of the Nokia handsets and came over. Yes, my MMS pictures could be sent to any Irish network, but he was unsure if a cross-border message, even if it was on 3 UK, would succeed. To his credit, he suggested we go off to find out.

During my visit I counted 49 real handsets that I could interact with, and with such a wide choice anyone with time on their hands could be assured that what they saw and tried was what theyd get.

Ians choice of handset was either the Nokia N73 or Sony Ericsson K800 and he took me over to the relevant pod so I could play with them.
The deciding factor was the recent launch of 3 At Home. I was told how this new tariff would keep my roaming costs under control when I crossed the UK border.

It was a good, solid performance, rounded off with the gift of a well-designed 3 Ireland catalogue featuring Daffyd from Little Britain. What more could you want?

Mobile News rating 1st

Product range 5
Product knowledge 4
Airtime knowledge 4
Questioning ability 5
Sales ability 5
Shop appearance5
Total 28

Summary
Magdas lack of English at the O2 store was a big limitation, but the generally top-notch quality and selection available in all these Grafton Street stores meant even the lowest ranked store managed a respectable 22.

Most of the shops were superbly fitted out, but while 3s shop might have looked like a funeral parlour from the outside, its combination of good layout and access to live handsets, along with Ians valuable assistance, made it the top act this week.

Winner profile
Name: Ian Tucker
Age: 20
Job title: Sales associate
Tenure:Since the store opened on October 23
Best tariff: Our ¬100 tariff. Although our most expensive, it offers superb value
Best handset: Nokia N73 works well with all of 3s offerings
Sales ethos: Listen to the customer, and fit the phone
to their needs
Hobbies: Snooker and cars

 

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